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Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Sweeney skeptical of Murphy’s third gun control push

Just one of nine bills passed by Assembly brought to Senate committee

By Joey Fox, December 16 2021 4:15 pm

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said today that he is hesitant to support many of the bills in Gov. Phil Murphy’s newest gun control package, arguing that some struck him as legislation for the sake of legislation.

“We’ve got the second-most stringent gun laws in the country. That’s a good thing,” Sweeney said. “But continuing just to pass more bills because you’re trying to find something else to pass to say you did it, I don’t agree with.”

Sweeney added that while he does intend to let some of the bills through during his final weeks as leader of the Senate, he wishes there was more focus on illegal guns and less on law-abiding gun owners.

“I’m going to pass some of [the bills],” he said. “There’s some that we’re absolutely going to pass. But I really strongly hope that this administration, and the State Police and the attorney general, will crack down on illegal guns.”

Of the package’s eight bills that advanced through Assembly committees on Monday, only one was brought to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee today: a bill that would require new residents to register their guns purchased out-of-state. A second bill, mandating safe storage of guns and ammunition, was originally on the committee schedule but removed at the last minute.

Even the single bill that was brought before the committee caused significant debate and discussion, as testimony from a National Rifle Association representative caused the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union), to amend the legislation in real time.

While the bill previously did not lay out a specific penalty for failing to register an out-of-state gun – meaning that it would have automatically been considered possession of an illegal gun, a felony – the amended version now states that a first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $250, with more serious consequences for a second offense.

“This is exactly what a committee should do, so the public can hear the process in how we reach a final result,” State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) said of the live negotiations. “It seems to me that the more we have this kind of engagement, even with people who don’t happen to agree with our position, the more we actually learn you can have a better bill.”

But while that one amended bill passed the committee on party lines and may be headed to the Senate for a full vote, the other seven remain stuck in limbo. Sweeney did not specify which of the remaining bills he personally supports – and time is running out before the lame duck session comes to an end.

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